Paleyfest New York Agents of Shield Panel — Auditions, Fight Scenes, and Who’s The Funniest
Stars Chloe Bennett, Ming-Na Wen, Clark Gregg, and Executive Producer and head of Marvel Television Jeph Loeb recently joined moderator Matt Mitovich from TV Line for an Agents of Shield panel at Paleyfest New York. The audience was also treated to a sneak-peek at tonight’s new episode, which continues season 2’s ramped up badassery and twists.
Read on for our panel summary as the cast and Jeph Loeb gave insights into what goes into making Agents of Shield, being part of the wider Marvel universe, audition stories, and who is funniest on-set.
Clark Gregg, who plays Agent Coulson, said he was disappointed that due to Paleyfest logistics, he wasn’t allowed to watch the new episode with the audience, since he hadn’t seen it yet. He revealed that he loves seeing the “payoff” with characters, especially the “strong, kickass” smart female characters on the show, who are tough both physically, and brilliant in science. He’s also excited about the cast they’ve added.
“We are the biggest dorks,” said Ming-Na Wen, who portrays Agent Melinda May. “It’s so amazing to get to play a kick-ass character.”
Jeph Loeb said it was exciting to find new talent to fill out the cast. They cover a wide range of actors, some more experienced, some less.
They discussed the challenges of doing television vs. movies. Wen talked about running out of time shooting fight scenes because television is much faster paced, while with movies you have a week to do four moves. “Ming just punches them in the face,” and they move on to the next thing, Loeb joked.
Wen was immediately excited to get the part of Melinda May. She explained she already loved Joss Whedon, and “this was right up my alley.” She confessed that for the audition she was “so nervous I couldn’t memorize two pages of dialogue” but that “Joss [Whedon], Marissa [Tancharoen], and Jeph, and Jed [Whedon] were so wonderful and warm in the audition room it made me feel so at ease” and that she went away from the audition feeling “so buzzed.” Wen added that she “got the call in my bathroom taking off my make-up and I screamed” and then pretended she’d hurt herself to cover up.
Chloe Bennett, who plays Skye, revealed that she went in 6 times, and that Wen, whom she already knew from Nashville, helped her through the audition. “I’ve been her S.O. from the get go,” said Wen.
Recounting the story of how he approached Joss Whedon about doing Agents of Shield, Loeb said that Whedon had just finished making The Avengers, so it was like the old joke about where are you going to go now? Disneyland! He said he basically grabbed Joss Whedon and asked him if he’d like to make a TV show.
Due to the sprawl of the Marvel universe, “people see Marvel and they immediately think…that we’re this giant octopus,” Jeph Loeb said. “But in fact what we are is a very small company.” He elaborated that different department heads are just down the hall from each other, publishing, digital, gaming, and that “we have regular conversations,” which helps in getting projects off the ground and coordinating.
The producers knew from the start that Agent Ward was going to turn out to be Hydra. Loeb revealed that they planted things in dialogue all along, so if you go back and look at earlier scenes, “you can tell he’s Hydra” in retrospect. They didn’t tell the cast ahead of time, which resulted in spontaneous reactions. The actors are frequently surprised by the scripts and their reactions are “hilarious to watch.”
The cast of Agents of Shield was given an advance screening of The Winter Soldier—“in the belly of the Disney beautiful beast,” Gregg joked. The cast had no idea what was coming and found it “pretty shocking”—Gregg mimed dropping his popcorn, jaw hanging open. It was difficult not being able to tell anyone, and they started wondering what they would call the show now.
Gregg and Brett Dalton, who plays Agent Ward, knew first about Ward. The rest of the cast didn’t, and they were stunned when they found out, some even a little upset, especially Iain De Caestecker, who portrays scientist Leo Fitz (one half of “FitzSimmons” with fellow scientist Jemma Simmons played by Elizabeth Henstridge). “Ian and Brett have a bromance,” Clark Gregg explained. So De Caestecker playing Fitz’s response mirrored his own a little bit upon finding out the news.
In response to a question about whether we’ll see Ward back in the battlefield, or any possibility of continuing the romance between Skye and Ward, the consensus from the cast seemed to be it was unlikely, because of the extent of the harm Agent Ward has done and all the people he’s killed.
Loeb spoke of the dynamic of Shield having Ward in their custody: “when you have a monster in the basement…get out of the house.”
Gregg discussed Agent Coulson’s journey this season, how Coulson had been part of a “giant super-secret organization” and then that was all taken away. His “back [is] against the wall” with his team, and then Nick Fury told him he had to be director. “That’s a big day,” Gregg said drily. Plus they have General Talbot after them. Only Shield knows the extent of Hydra, and it’s been very challenging to play that.
An audience question wanted to know about the members of The Avengers not knowing Coulson is alive. Gregg said that “it’s hard on his heart” for Coulson to know that Steve Rogers thinks he’s dead.
On Marvel movie characters showing up, Loeb said people want to know about characters like the Hulk showing up on Shield, but they’re focused more on the mysteries and back stories of the show. They’re very pleased the audience is so invested in the Agents of Shield characters—not that they wouldn’t be delighted to have big guest star characters, but it’s not their priority.
Wen said she’s been getting a lot of tweets about Natasha Romanoff being in May’s phone contacts, spotted in the most recent episode. She was enthusiastic about the idea of a team-up between the two.
To work out other Marvel character appearances, Loeb said they have to look at what movies are in the works, and actor availability. Sometimes Marvel says they can’t use that character. So there are lot of things to consider to work it out so they can be in the show.
In season 2, Skye is a more experienced agent with stronger fighting skills. Bennett said she went through some actual boot-camp training to prep for season 2 and a Skye who has Agent May as her S.O, and it was like really training with Agent May.
When asked if he’d like to direct an episode, Gregg said that the job of rebuilding shield “is so intimidating” and he really admires watching the team of writers, directors, the production team getting episodes completed in post so quickly, so he’s not sure about taking that on behind the scenes.
Gregg and Wen talked about filming the last episode, which had Agents Coulson and May dancing, and Agent May having to fight her own double. Gregg said that he left the set and came back seven hours later to find Wen still at work on the big May vs. May fight scene. The episode before that, they were filming on a battleship, Wen revealed, so she and Gregg took some time on the ship’s deck to rehearse the dancing scenes.
When asked who’s the funniest person on set besides Clark Gregg, Gregg said Bennet and Wen are funny; Wen said she’s not funny intentionally.
There was an audience question about Agent Coulson as a father figure to the team. “I’m like an older brother!” Gregg responded in mock indignation.
Bennett said her relationship with Gregg grew on and off-screen, so that he became like her “cool uncle” as Skye and Coulson’s relationship grew on-screen.
Agents of Shield airs Tuesdays, 9/8c on ABC.
Author: Dot R
Dot has been bouncing around various fandoms for many years now writing essays, episode reviews, commentary, and reporting news and conducting interviews, among other things. Along with being a Marvel, DC, Star Wars, and Supernatural fangirl, she’s also a fan of fantasy and science fiction television shows, everything from Farscape to Killjoys to 12 Monkeys to X-Files to Wynonna Earp. Currently Fangirl at Large covering numerous geek culture related topics, convention news, casting spoilers, show news, and interviews.
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